Crystals for anxiety: do they actually work?

crystals for anxiety - do they work?

Crystal therapy is one of a range of complementary and alternative therapies. These therapies may be used alongside or instead of conventional treatments (BetterHealth Channel, 2021).

Examples include acupuncture, aromatherapy, homeopathy and meditation. Interest in complementary and alternative therapies has increased in recent years with Australian research finding 63% of study participants had tried some form of complementary medicine within the previous 12 months (Steel et al., 2018).

While there is scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of some complementary and alternative therapies, there is limited or no evidence for many others. Health authorities recommend that anyone thinking about using complementary or alternative therapy should carefully consider the evidence (BetterHealth Channel, 2021).

This article focuses on current information regarding the effectiveness of healing crystals for anxiety. It briefly explains what anxiety disorders are, describes crystal therapy and considers the evidence regarding the effectiveness of using crystals for anxiety treatment.

The article is intended to provide information not advice. Anxiety disorders are complex and can be serious. It is important that anyone concerned about such a disorder should see an appropriately qualified practitioner for advice and treatment.

What is anxiety?

We all get anxious from time to time. This can be positive, focusing us on things like relationship issues, job stress, and financial challenges that we need to deal with. Feeling anxious can even be a motivator, encouraging us to put our best energy and effort into our professional, recreational and social activities. However it is not good when anxiety and stress becomes so strong or persistent that it begins to interfere with our day to day life. This indicates a possible disorder. Untreated disorders can have serious effects on a person’s life and relationships (Beyond Blue, 2021, Hailes, 2021, Neura, 2021).

What are anxiety disorders?

A person with an anxiety disorder experiences persistent, excessive nervousness, fear, worry or stress. Physical symptoms include rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, sweating, feeling ill. These feelings can recur frequently over weeks or months. There are different types of disorders ranging from mild to severe.

Types of anxiety disorders:
  • Generalised anxiety disorders: where the person experiences persistent, excessive and/or unrealistic worries most of the time. Even small every day responsibilities, like paying the bills, can generate stress.
  • Specific phobias: intense, irrational fear of specific objects and situations. For example, fear of flying, of dogs, of driving.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): where repetitive, compulsive behaviours such as foot tapping or repeating words, are used in order to keep calm.
  • Social Anxiety: occurs in social situations where there is a potential risk of being judged.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): often triggered by a major traumatic event, such as being assaulted or involved in an accident. It involves upsetting memories, flashbacks, nightmares, and difficulties sleeping.

While some people experience one type of disorder others can experience multiple conditions, sometimes in conjunction with other mental health issues. (Neura, 2021, Beyond Blue, 2021). Anxiety disorders are not uncommon. The BetterHealth Channel (2021) suggests that approximately 25% of the population have a disorder that warrants treatment at some time in their life.

What causes anxiety disorders?

There is no single identifiable cause. Rather, a combination of factors are thought to contribute to anxiety disorders.

Factors contributing to anxiety disorders:
  • Genetics: Anxiety can sometimes run in families. However, having a parent or close relative experience anxiety doesn’t necessarily mean an individual will develop it.
  • Stressful or negative environmental life events like work issues, or family and relationship problems.
  • Some medical conditions can lead to disorders.
  • Alcohol and substance use can aggravate anxiety conditions.

How are anxiety disorders treated?

Since the symptoms and impact of disorders vary from individual to individual, treatment needs to be tailored to the specific disorder and individual needs. Consultation with an appropriate professional is considered the most effective way to identify the best treatment or combination of treatments.

Treatments:
  • Psychotherapies: a range of psychotherapies are used. The specific therapies are tailored to individual diagnoses and behaviours. Psychotherapies are sometimes called talk therapies as they focus on the individual exploring the underlying causes of the condition and developing coping and problem-solving skills to better manage it. Psychotherapies are considered the most effective treatment as they encourage the person to explore and manage the issues that are causing the anxiety.
  • Medications: medication does not cure the disorder but can ease symptoms, providing temporary relief, particularly while undertaking other therapies
  • Self-help, complementary and alternative therapies: these might be helpful for some types of disorder. These therapies are used alone or combined with medication and psychotherapy. Examples include yoga, massage therapy, relaxation and breathing techniques. Crystal therapy is considered an alternative treatment (Marshall, 2018; Beyond Blue, 2021).

Can crystal therapy assist with managing anxiety?

Advocates of healing crystals believe that semi-precious stones and other crystals promote physical, emotional and spiritual healing. They argue that mental and physical conditions, including stress and anxiety, are a consequence of energy imbalances in the body.  Crystals are used to redress these imbalances. They do so by interacting with the body’s energy field, or chakra. During a therapy session, a crystal healing stone is held in the hand or placed on the chakra points around the body. The  stone releases positive energy into the body while negative energy, which is associated with disease, flows out. This induces feelings of peace, calm and relaxation and reduces feelings of stress, thereby healing and restoring the body’s balance.

Different crystals are said to have different characteristics. Some are considered to improve physical well-being, while others support mental well-being. For example, it is suggested that clear quartz stimulates the immune system, citrine is good for heart and thyroid, while blue lace agate is useful for panic attacks. Crystals considered helpful for stress and anxiety include rose quartz, agate, black tourmaline, and amethyst (Palermo, 2017, Marshall, 2018)

Do healing crystals help with anxiety?

Despite its growing popularity, reports of successful crystal healing tend to be anecdotal with little scientific evidence. There is no evidence that diseases are the result of energy flows throughout the body. Nor is there evidence that crystals can be differentiated to treat a particular ailment. Crystals may help induce relaxation, although scientific evidence is not definitive (Palermo, 2017; Vyse, 2013).

However research does suggest that the therapy may induce a placebo effect.  A placebo is anything that seems to be a real treatment but isn’t. The placebo effect is the positive impact experienced after taking or using a placebo. Thus, a person may feel less anxious and more relaxed after undergoing crystal therapy, but there may be no scientific proof that this has anything to do with the intrinsic characteristics if the crystals themselves (Harvard Medical School, 2012; BetterHealth Channel, 2021).

One of the only studies to explore the placebo effect in crystal therapy was undertaken in 2001 by psychologist Christopher French. Eighty people were asked to meditate for five minutes while holding a crystal. Half the participants were given real quartz crystals while the rest were given fake ones which they thought were real. Prior to meditating half the participants were primed to be aware of any effects such as tingling or warmth in their hand holding the crystals. After the meditation, participants answered questions about whether they felt any effects. Those who were given the placebo reported the same effects as those who held real crystals. Participants in both groups reported feeling a warm sensation in their hand, as well as increased overall well-being. In addition those who had been primed reported feeling stronger effects regardless of whether they were holding real crystals or the placebo. The researchers concluded that a person can feel better after undergoing crystal healing treatment but there is no scientific proof that this result has anything to do with the qualities said to be characteristic of healing crystals. The researchers argued that it was a result of the placebo effect (French and Williams, 1999).

Can crystal therapy help with managing anxiety?

While scientific evidence points to the effects of healing crystals for anxiety as largely due to the placebo effect, this does not mean that the therapy makes no contribution. Doctors and scientists agree that the placebo effect is real. Research has identified physiological responses to placebos including the release of feel-good hormones like endorphins, dopamine, and natural painkillers. With regard to anxiety, it has been suggested that the placebo effect can calm the mind, boost positive thinking and improve the ability to cope. It may thus contribute to managing the symptoms of anxiety disorders (Vyse, 2013; Harvard Medical School, 2021).

However while the therapy might help reduce symptoms, there appears to be little scientific evidence that it can address underlying issues which cause the disorders. The professional literature suggests that successful management requires these are underlying issues be identified and addressed. The literature further suggests that psychotherapies, often in conjunction with medications and alternative therapies, are the most effective approach to managing anxiety and stress (BetterHealth Channel, 2021, Beyond Blue, 2021, Hailes, 2021, Neura, 2021).

Information in this article is not a substitute for informed professional advice. If considering seeking help to manage to manage an anxiety disorder, appropriate health professionals should be consulted.

References

BetterHealth Channel, (2021) Anxiety, Victorian State Government, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/conditionsandtreatments/anxiety

Beyond Blue (2020) Psychological Treatments for Anxiety, https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/anxiety/treatments-for-anxiety/psychological-treatments-for-anxiety

French, C. C., & Williams, L. (1999). Crystal clear: Paranormal powers, placebo, or priming? Sixth European Congress of Psychology, Rome, 4-9 July 1999.

Hailes, Jean (2021) Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety, Women’s health https://www.jeanhailes.org.au/health-a-z/mental-emotional-health/anxiety/signs-and-symptoms-of-anxiety

Harvard Medical School (2019), The Power of the Placebo Effect https://www.health.harvard.edu/mental-health/the-power-of-the-placebo-effect

Marshall, L, (2018), Can Crystals Heal: Separating Facets from Facts, WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/balance/news/20180116/can-crystals-heal-separating-facets-from-facts

NeuRA(2021) Anxiety: Extra Information https://www.neura.edu.au/health/anxiety/extra-information/

Palermo, E (2017), Crystal Healing: Stone Cold Facts About Gemstone Treatments, Live Science https://www.livescience.com/40347-crystal-healing.html

Steel, A., McIntyre, E., Harnett, J., Foley, H., Adams, J., Sibbritt, D., Wardle, J., & Frawley, J. (2018). Complementary medicine use in the Australian population: Results of a nationally-representative cross-sectional survey. Scientific reports, 8(1), 17325. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-35508-y

Vyse, Stuart (2013). Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition (Updated ed.). New York: Oxford University Press USA. ISBN 978-0-199-99692-6.

About the editor, Amelia Cambrell

About the editor, Amelia Cambrell

Amelia Cambrell, Psychologist & Counsellor, BA; BSc (Hons); M Psych (Counselling); Dip Clin Hypnotherapy, is a senior psychologist at Counselling in Melbourne and with 15-years of experience in the mental health space is driven to seek client outcomes.

Find out more about Amelia Cambrell

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